Three alphas went into a locker room, tried playing basketball together, and then there were none.
When the Chicago Bulls added Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo to a roster that already included Jimmy Butler this past summer, the team’s incumbent All-Star infamously dubbed this newly formed trio “the three alphas.” And midway through their first season together, we may already have the answer to the question everyone was asking immediately following Chicago’s free agency frenzy: Can they coexist?
That would be a no.
Even as Butler earned a starting spot in the 2017 NBA All-Star Game, he wasn’t willing to endorse his own contributions to a Bulls team that has started 22-23 and is clinging to an eighth seed in the East.
“I ain’t done (expletive) man,” Butler told the Chicago Tribune over the weekend. “What’s our record, around .500? That’s no better than last year. So I’m not impressed. If I can help this team win, that’s how I judge myself. And I don’t think I’m doing a very good job of that.”
Actually, their sub-.500 record isn’t just “no better than last year,” it’s four games worse than 2015-16, when the Bulls were operating with the since-traded Derrick Rose and Tony Snell alongside Butler. A recent string of five losses in seven games ended Saturday with a last-second win that probably should’ve been a loss to the Sacramento Kings. During that span, Wade — in danger of missing the All-Star Game for the first time in 13 years — played so poorly he had to apologize for his performance.
That performance was AWFUL!!! I apologize to all the Chicago fans and Wade fans.
— DWade (@DwyaneWade) January 21, 2017
This came not long after Rondo received a “DNP-Coaches Decision” on his own bobblehead night at the United Center in an effort to save him from himself — to which the four-time All-Star point guard responded, “I thought it was bulls***. ‘Save me from myself?’ I never heard that before in my life.”
So, no, the coexistence is not going well.
Following Friday’s 102-93 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, Butler made his frustration with the effort known:
“We have to start playing better from the jump, a full 48 minutes,” he said, via the Chicago Tribune. “It’s so disappointing because the way we practice isn’t the way we play in the game. Don’t ask me why, I don’t know. Starting from me going all the way down the line we have to be better as a whole. Otherwise, we’re just going to keep getting our a**es beat.”
As did Chicago center Robin Lopez, acquired in the trade that sent Rose to the New York Knicks:
“You go in against the Cavs or somebody, the champs, and you have that fear in your gut,” added Lopez. “That’s a good fear to have because it drives you to stay focused, to be prepared. I don’t think we have that fear or level of respect at times for other opponents. … There are moments where we take certain situations for granted and we have mental lapses.”
That’s to be expected from a young rebuilding team, but one with three veterans at the top of the bill? Nope. Perhaps the two newest alphas are resting on past reputations, and the team is following suit.
“I sure as hell hope not,’’ Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said in response to questions about a lack of urgency, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. “With the importance of every game, being where we are right now, fighting for a spot in the playoffs. It’s gotta be something inside you that wants to go out and compete, give yourself an opportunity to win basketball games.’’
Following Friday’s loss to the Hawks, Hoiberg conceded his team hasn’t handled adversity well and vowed, “We’re going to look at everything,” which originally was thought to be a second glance at lineups and rotations. However, the Sun-Times reported Sunday the Bulls were shopping both Rondo and Nikola Mirotic, who is just two years removed from a First Team All-Rookie and near-Sixth Man of the Year campaign. So far, at least, those discussions have reportedly gone nowhere. From Joe Cowley:
“Obviously, you knew that would be the case with Rondo,” the source said. “But [the Bulls] don’t like what they’re hearing back on [Mirotic], either. Then again, that’s a [front office] that tends to overvalue its assets.”
Cowley cited multiple sources saying the Bulls have placed Rondo and Mirotic on the trading block in an attempt to make a second-half push — the former, presumably, as an addition by subtraction, and the latter as a legitimate asset who could reel in a helpful piece in return. Even the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have been vocal about their need for a backup point guard, won’t give up anything of significance for Rondo. And Chicago could regret trading a 25-year-old Mirotic for anything less than equal value just to chase a playoff appearance that still likely wouldn’t last past the first round.
Even Butler — the 27-year-old starter in the All-Star Game — has long been rumored as trade bait for the right package in return, which makes little sense. Meanwhile, Rondo and his $13.4 million team option for 2017-18 will be gone by June, and the 35-year-old Wade will likely follow suit this summer or next, depending on what he chooses to do with his $23.8 million player option for 2017-18.
So, the Bulls better face the reality that this experiment — uniting three ball-dominant players with a woeful shooting history under a coach who embraces pace and space — is a failed one. The sooner they do that, the sooner they can rebuild around Butler, the only alpha who really matters in Chicago.
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